Thursday, August 17, 2006

What do the simple folk do?

First off, if you can place the title of this entry, why, you're almost as dorky as me. A cookie for you. Now down to business.

The French Revolution is suddenly everyplace, fashionwise. It probably has something to do with the new Sofia Coppola movie about M.A., but I don't care. First Vogue does a tribute to British designers in May, and John Galliano's rococo ballgowns make an appearance. I thought it was a fluke, a mere coincidence. But no. I pick up Vanity Fair's Sept. issue, and in quick succession, Juicy Couture has a girl in a huge pink wig and a full skirted, empire-waisted gown; Dolce and Gabbana has a whole four page ad/spread featuring ringlets and (again) Empire-waisted gowns, young men in frock coats - well, models really, but the idea is young men - all of which is set in a darkening garden on gilt chairs; and Daniel Swarovski has drapey Greco-Roman tops and ringlets again. This is entirely ca. 1790, several years later than the strictly Rococo, pre-Revolution era court gown I am making, but it interests me, not the least because someone is confusing the downfall of the sun Kings with Students' Revolution of 1830, and possible with a Jane Austen novel. Then in the article on Kate Moss, she is dressed as Gloria Swanson dressed as Catherine the great, and there is a brilliant example of a modern take on the 18th century caraco, complete with hooped skirt. Of course, this is almost overshadowed by the brilliant photo of Kate's ta-tas, with the hoop removed from the skirt, but no matter. There are cravat-like ruffles and sleeve business and even a train on the Gaultier ensemble she half-sports.

On top of that, Chris B. asked me a great question today. First he asked who M.A. was, and I impressed even myself with my recall of Ancien Regime history, and then he asked me - Why all the hoopla? What's so great about a self-centered, pampered icon of the French monarchy? And here's what I think: (self-important aheming) We cannot imagine in this age, in this culture and society, being defined by our circumstance. We are masters of reinvention, we have a firm faith in self-determination, we view those stranded in untenable situations as too lazy or weak-willed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a move on, dammit. But life was not like that even a century ago, certainly not two and a half centuries ago, and certainly not for a member of the aristocracy. The only way that you survived was by playing the game by the rules. What happens to someone trapped by circumstance? When you are stifled by expectations in the same way you are stifled by the corseted fashions of the time? When you are a political being not allowed to participate in political process? When you are an icon, an idol, the wife of a man descended from a self-declared god? When you are in the company of others every moment - from the second they bring your chocolate in the light of mid-morning until they remove the pins that hold the wig to your head before you sleep at dawn - so that you never know a moment's privacy or peace? How do you raise your children? How do you learn to love? I think that M.A. was a woman trapped by circumstance. She was never offered, at the age fifteen, the chance to be anything other than the Dauphine and eventually the Queen of France. She never was allowed to do more than play pretend at the life she might have chosen, if choice had ever been a consideration. And we, looking back from the rosy future that she could not have conceived of, thank our lucky stars that we are not she, no matter her beautiful gowns and priviledge. In the end, the people of France knocked her from the pedestal she had occupied since birth by taking the cruelly humanizing step of expediting her death. I can't remember now what philosopher said this, or perhaps it was just a friend with a dark sense of humor, but I am reminded of a saying I once heard: The inside of every coffin lid looks the same.

By the way, the spell check on this template does not recognize the word 'blog'. Oh, the irony.

1 comment:

  1. And you warn *me* not to get maudlin? Sheesh. Beautiful missive, darling.